The Sunday Leader

Rajapaksa Govt Haunted By Ghosts From The Past

  • Religious tensions hit the Cabinet
  • JVP puts the ball on MR’s court

That the Mahinda Rajapaksa government is now on a fast descending precipice of its popularity is evident by the continuous issues faced by the administration.

Hot on the heels of the adoption of a second consecutive resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva against the Rajapaksa government’s failures, the administration is now being haunted from ghosts from the past. The Matale mass grave that was dug in November last year and the latest discovery of a grave site in Vakarai has now left the government looking for responses when human rights watchdogs around the globe are breathing fire calling on President Mahinda Rajapaksa et al to deliver its commitments on human rights and humanitarian laws.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, Somawansa Amarasinghe, Champika Ranawaka and Rauff Hakeem

The report on the findings of the Matale mass grave to courts last week finally confirmed the suspicions expressed by the JVP that the skeletal remains exhumed from the grave belonged to comrades killed during the 1988-89 insurgency.
When the mass grave was accidentally discovered when the ground at the Matale Base Hospital was dug to construct a new building, authorities tried to make various claims to prevent any suspicion that the skeletal remains belonged to the period of the JVP insurgency.

Matale, which was hotbed of JVP activities during the insurgency, was under heavy military security at the time. The JVP charged that certain leading members in the current government had played a key role in the disappearance of hundreds of youths during the 1988-89 period.

The party charged that this very reason would result in the government trying to “sweep the issue under the carpet” although the killings had taken place under the watch of the UNP regime.

JVP politburo member Anura Kumara Dissanayake said that initial investigations into the skeletal remains had found that the persons who were buried in the grave were tortured.

“Some of the bones had been broken while some bones have been covered with pieces of iron mesh,” he said.

Despite attempts to say that the skeletal remains could have been of persons killed during an epidemic in the Matale area during the early 1940s, the authorities were clueless as to why such a mass burial had not been recorded either in a courthouse or at the hospital.
However, Prof. Raj Somadeva of the Post Graduate Institute of Archeology in his 54 page report based on investigations carried on rings, buttons and other material evidence uncovered from the mass grave stated that the period of burial was between 1986-1990.
The Matale Magistrate immediately issued an order to declare the mass grave a crime scene despite a previous request by the police to cover the grave.

The latest findings on the Matale mass grave has now put the onus on the President and government to initiate a proper inquiry and bring to book those responsible for the killings. The persons buried need to be identified. After all, that is accountability.

The JVP maintains that the controversy over the Matale mass grave was due to the possible involvement of a high profile government official in the killings in Matale during the 1988-89 period.

“The President during the period of the insurgency played the role of a human rights activist and took these cases to Geneva. It would now be the best time for the President to show if he was truly concerned about the human rights situation in the country at the time or whether it was yet another political game,” Dissanayake said while thanking the team of professionals who investigated the findings of the mass grave despite various pressures.

True to Dissanayake’s words, it is now up to the President to prove his role of a human rights defender that paved the way for his ascension to office.

“Treachery? You must remember we are southerners. They have never betrayed their country. Time and again they have sacrificed their life for the country. We have a right to tell this to the world. Tears of innocent grieving mothers compel us to tell their story of pain and sorrow to the world. We will do it today, tomorrow and always,” said the then opposition MP Mahinda Rajapaksa in parliament on January 25, 1991.

President Rajapaksa, 22 years after making this statement in parliament, now has the opportunity to show his mettle – or he could always speak of treachery on the part of opposition members, especially the JVP for demanding justice for their fallen comrades.
It would also be interesting to see how the government would deal with the Vakarai grave in the next few weeks.

Muslims concerned

While skeletons from the past are haunting the government on one side, religious dissention being pushed by a group of extremists with support from the governing party has now managed to hit a raw nerve in the government.

The Muslim political leadership in the government that has up to now maintained a silent policy were last week compelled to focus on the anti-Muslim campaign that is now getting out of hand.

The Muslim ministers are now on a collision course with Sinhala extremist forces in the governing party like the JHU and NFF.
The JHU has openly supported the cause of the Bodhu Bala Sena and other newly popped up movements like Ravana Balaya.
Following the attack on business establishments owned by Muslims in Pepiliyana last week the SLMC finally opened its eyes.
SLMC Leader and Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem had requested President Rajapaksa to convene a cabinet meeting to discuss the rising religious unrest and civil disturbance in the country.

Hakeem had also contacted all Muslim parliamentarians including Senior Minister A. H. M. Fowzie (who is currently out of the country) and Ministers Rishard Bathiutheen and A. L. M. Athaullah for a meeting on the matter.

A statement by the SLMC has said that the Minister has expressed his displeasure and condemnation on the attack on a private business site. He has said that he believed this was seemingly carried out as a sequel to the ongoing attacks on the religious places and hate campaigns against Muslims and other religious minority communities in the country.
Hakeem has said he is constrained not to treat this as an isolated incident and is equally dismayed at the ineffective response of the law and order machinery in containing the spread of such violence and unrest that fuels insecurity and peace of all minority communities in Sri Lanka.

“What we are now witnessing is unrest and violence extended to the rest of the country too, threatening post war religious freedom with the potential to lead our multi ethno-religious communities to irreversible depths of antagonism once again. The President and his powerful good office that contained violence and bloodshed of the past, he believes can and will spend no time in curbing such violence too, by nipping it in the bud,” the SLMC statement said.

Hakeem has stressed that the duty and responsibility for the protection of people must be borne by the legitimate government and the State apparatuses of the country alone. He has noted that no religious extremist/militant element can take the law onto themselves nor should they provoke others.

The anti-Muslim campaign by extremist groups is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode and any decision by the government to turn a blind eye to the issue due to petty political gains could have an adverse impact on the country in future.

Blue wave

The main coalition party of the government, the SLFP meanwhile seems to be faced with its own load of problems.
The internal conflicts that keep intensifying every week have now surfaced in the open in the ‘Nil Rella’ (Blue Wave) programme initiated by the SLFP’s new National Organizer Basil Rajapaksa.

The campaign is aimed at revitalizing the SLFP membership at electoral level, island wide and is carried out under Basil’s patronage.
The campaign was launched following speculation in the political circles of the possible return of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to politics.

However, the campaign has intensified the splits in the SLFP. The SLFP is already split into three groups – Basil’s factions, MP Namal Rajapaksa’s faction and the senior SLFPers.

Interestingly, the Blue Wave has caused a rift between the two Rajapaksa factions.

SLFP organizers in the South have been informed that all programmes held under the Blue Wave campaign in the South have to be held under Namal’s patronage since Basil was taking the lead in all other electorates and was seen to be receiving a good response.
Meanwhile, the JVP has slammed the Blue Wave campaign saying it is also a move by the government to divert the people’s attention from the wave of price hikes that are to hit the consumers in April.

JVP politburo member K.D. Lalkantha said that while the government is planning to increase bus fares, electricity tariffs and other commodity prices next month, attempts are made to divert the people’s attention through campaigns like the Blue Wave.

Close watch

Be that as it may, the high offices of the governing party are none too pleased to hear of the possible entry into politics by Kumaratunga.

Given the growing dissention against the SLFP leadership by senior party members, senior members of the government have decided to keep a close watch on the senior SLFPers.

The senior SLFPers are being watched to see if they would build any close links with Kuamartunga and whether any future political plans are being made.

It is learnt that state intelligence units have been directed to be cautious of the latest political developments and to therefore keep close tabs on the senior SLFPers.

In crisis

Meanwhile, in the run up to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting next month, the Executive Summary of an International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) report has stated that the removal from office in Sri Lanka of Chief Justice Bandaranayake was unlawful, is undermining public confidence in the rule of law, and threatening to eviscerate the country’s judiciary as an independent guarantor of constitutional rights.

Issued ahead of the full report, the Executive Summary of A Crisis of Legitimacy: The Impeachment of Chief Justice Bandaranayake and the Erosion of the Rule of Law in Sri Lanka finds the legal profession in Sri Lanka to be in a perilous state.
Sternford Moyo, IBAHRI Co-Chair has commented, “We call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to take immediate steps to reverse the impeachment and replacement of Chief Justice Bandaranayake and to work to rebuild the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession in the country, as a matter of absolute urgency.”

A high-level delegation, under the auspices of the IBAHRI, had investigated the removal of Chief Justice Bandaranayake and the independence of the legal profession in Sri Lanka through a series of in-depth conversations by telephone and via the internet with a range of key players in Sri Lanka, including judges, lawyers, journalists, parliamentarians and civil society activists.

The interviews were conducted remotely because authorities would not permit an investigation to take place within Sri Lanka. The delegation had found there to be a systematic effort to intimidate and discredit lawyers and others who advocate and promote respect for fundamental rights in Sri Lanka.

In advance of the planning for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), scheduled to be held in Sri Lanka in November 2013, Sternford Moyo has stated, “This is a critical time for Sri Lanka and international efforts to work towards reform must be intensified. The IBAHRI invites the Commonwealth to carefully consider this report and Sri Lanka’s position with regard to respect for the separation of powers, the rule of law, good governance and human rights as enshrined in Sri Lanka’s Charter when deciding how to proceed with arrangements for the forthcoming CHOGM.”

The Executive Summary of A Crisis of Legitimacy includes specific recommendations to Sri Lanka’s authorities, including taking immediate steps to reverse the impeachment and replacement of Chief Justice Bandaranayake, consistent with the Sri Lankan Constitution and extant rulings of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, drawing up a Code of Conduct for judges as a matter of urgency, taking full account of the principles set out in relevant international instruments, including the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct and the Latimer House Guidelines; and Repealing the 18th Amendment to the Constitution and taking steps to create a body independent of the President and responsible for the appointment of all senior officials and judges in Sri Lanka.

2 Comments for “Rajapaksa Govt Haunted By Ghosts From The Past”

  1. Renu

    Things are happening in the country, which can turn the tide very soon. International Pressure through UNHCR, India and through the International Bar association, would leave a bad taste about the present governance of the country. These are all reflected in the present day happenings such actions of Budu Bakla Senawa, Senior SLFpers having discussion woith Chandrika, reaction to the UNP membership drive, countered by three fractioned Nil rella . Why all this if the Government which has the support oif 2/3 majority in parliament, and they could dictate terms, The problem is the reaction of the people now, Change is what the are wanting now, so these are the signs that there is something in the air, which MPs of the governing party now aware of

  2. sangaralingham

    without honesty and sincerity democracy will fail. not winning by majority but by integrity and social strength of whole society of the nation some will support an apparent strong party but that victory is a perception of illusion till all nation and its people see the result within their community

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